Saturday, March 5, 2016

Steam engine site uncertain as Corman seeks more money; mayor expects Main St. manager in 1-3 years

Old Smokey appears at the Midway Fall Festival.
By Tiffany Broughton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The R.J. Corman Railroad Group’s plan to house the “Old Smokey” steam engine in Midway has hit a snag.

The plan was to put the engine on the United Bank lot where a Corman caboose already resides but Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said he has doubts the engine will fit there.

Vandegrift said the bank has been very helpful, but doesn’t even own the land where the caboose is, much less the space needed for the engine.

“If we put it over there it will probably cost an extra $200,000 for a retaining wall and backfill because of the slope” behind the caboose, Vandegrift said at Wednesday’s meeting of the Midway Business Association. “Ideally, it should go downtown.” He said in an interview that the site is “highly visible and near a lot of things visitors want to come to.”

Vandegrift told the merchants that Corman went back to Frankfort on Wednesday to see if the state Transportation Cabinet is willing to give it any more federal money.

Vandegrift said he was told the meeting was positive but they won't have an answer until the middle of summer. He noted in the interview that a new transportation secretary was just appointed.

Vandegrift said he does not want to lose the potential tourist attraction to another city. He said in the interview that Corman does not own the land where its rails run in Midway – CSX Corp. does – but it does have full ownership of its line to Versailles, location of the Bluegrass Railroad Museum.

However, the government grant that Corman received to house the engine is dependent on it being placed in a historic district, and the Versailles Historic District does not extend to the railroad.

Vandegrift said in the interview that the Midway Historic District apparently includes the Walter Bradley Park, where he told the merchants that it could fit really well if the bank site doesn’t work out.

“I’m just afraid it’s going to be way too complicated to do this on private property,” he said, partly because the bank would also have “some liability issues” from tourist traffic, and “They have legitimate concerns.”

Main Street manager?

Talk about getting a Main Street manager to attract business and help retail and commercial development has circulated since the city lost its Main Street manager four years ago after the previous administration’s disputes with Midway Renaissance, which shared the cost. Vandegrift says there is potential to fill the position in the next one to three years.

"I hate the term Main Street manager. I think it's incredibly narrow," the mayor said. "I think I'd like to call it tourism and economic development director. It's not just a focus on downtown; it's a focus on economic development, which includes downtown."

Vandegrift said the city needs to decide how the job would fit in with what the business association is already doing.

"In the past we've had the merchants pay for part of it and the Renaissance pay for part of it. . . so the person basically has three bosses and it is a mess," said Vandegrift. "I just want to let you know that it is on the horizon."

Other MBA business

As of Feb. 3 the Midway Business Association only had three paid members. Treasurer Leslie Penn reported at Wednesday’s meeting that it now has 16.

Meanwhile, the advertising committee is meeting regularly and working on a plan.

"Our main goal is to most effectively. . . reach everyone consistently on a daily basis, not just for events," committee member Peggy Angel said. "We want them aware that we are here every single day, doing what we do."

James Reed of the Kentucky Broadcasters Association has developed a media and advertising campaign to market to tourists, said Angel. Reed also works with Midway University.

During the February meeting, Angel said the association will have a budget of $16,000 to $20,000 for the campaign. Advertisements will cover a 70-mile radius and reach out to families with a decision maker 30 to 60 years old, she said.

The MBA has no monthly costs for Reed, Angel said: " It is a cost as we determine what we can afford and what we want to do."

Angel said the committee has picked apart everything they have looked at so far. "We have asked what is the cost, what is the distribution and what is the benefit for the entire association?"

Reed has set up radio ads with three stations, two in Lexington and one in Louisville, to promote Midway from 6 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., said Angel. "We are trying to monitor the costs under a microscope this year to make sure we are spending our dollars wisely," she said.

The advertising committee has more work to do. Eli Mertens of TravelHost Magazine and Hannah Smith of A Look At were in attendance, pitching their ideas for ads the committee may consider.
These publications would be placed in hotels and motels around the Bluegrass. TravelHost is a magazine released six times each year. A Look At is a hard-cover book placed in each room at specific hotels and published once a year. The MBA has used TravelHost in the past, but A Look At would be a new venture.

The MBA has already agreed to be a part of the Kentucky Horse Park Magazine for the spring and fall of this year, said Angel. The magazine will be printed before the Keeneland meet in April.
Part of the budget will go toward advertising for the Midway Fall Festival, which is the association's main money-maker.

Elisha Riddle, creator of the Meet Me In Midway Facebook page and owner and operator of Charismatic Media, said she has been working on drawing more people to the page.

Riddle uses $25 of her $125 monthly fee for promoting the page to targeted audiences on Facebook.
"The first month I put the dollars towards promoting the Chocolate Stroll and I think it had a mediocre effect, to be honest," said Riddle. "The second month I put the dollars towards an ad to get people to like the Meet Me In Midway page and I think there was a very positive response from that."

As of Feb. 7 the page had 80 likes. Less than a month later, on March 3, the page had 210 likes.

Vandegrift said the city’s Meet Me In Midway website, which is still not connected to the same-named Facebook page, has been updated and is receiving a facelift. He said the goal is for the site to work better on mobile devices.

"The analysis shows that every year less people are using our website on laptops and more on phones and tablets," said Vandegrift.

The Francisco's Farm Art Festival sent out 108 invitations to artists on March 1. Twenty had been accepted as of the next morning, said Kenny Smith, President of MBA and the festival’s artist coordinator.

"We should have a good turnout of artists this year, more so than last year," said Smith.

The Versailles-Woodford County Chamber of Commerce will be holding a ribbon cutting on March 11 for Cherokee & Co, which opened recently on Main Street, reported Don Vizi, executive director of the chamber.

Vizi said the chamber has been working with a Midway University intern, Sadie Boschert, to help find grants to bring bathrooms to downtown.

On Saturday, March 12, there will be a forum for the Hike Bike Waterways Horseback Riding Trail Alliance at KCTCS in Versailles from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. to display and brainstorm proposed trails.

The MBA meets the first Wednesday of each month at 9 a.m. upstairs in City Hall. The next meeting will start with a short brainstorming session on potential fundraising ideas.

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